An Andhra Bull in Meghalaya Shop!
Bad news possibly sells faster and better, so some good stories are either consigned to the back pages or, worse, end up in the Editor’s wastepaper bin. Having seen the good and bad sides of governments for many years, I often feel that the best a government does is often submerged by the bad that gets to the Headlines. It does not matter which, but any general reference to the good work done by a government usually elicits a suspicious smirk or a disdainful look among the enlightened citizens I interact with. Unfair imbalance, perhaps, but that is the world we all live in! The democracy’s critical wings – the government or the media- are just processes – neither fair nor just and most certainly, not the best. Since I didn’t want to wait till the cows come home for the media to pick this story up, I decided to write about some good work done by the Animal Husbandry Department recently.
It is all about a Bull. Yes, an Andhra one at that! So please read on with an open mind and let not the smirk get in between us! Bos indicus cattle breeds are native to India. The high milk-yielding European breeds imported into India are the Bos taurus type. The key identifiable difference is the hump on the back of the Indian cattle breeds. Like the camels, the Indian oxen store food and water in their humps. Ongole is one such breed native to a town by the same name in the Prakasam district of Andhra Pradesh. The bull is globally reputed for its sturdiness and majestic looks. It weighs up to half a tonne, is white in colour and thrives well in our country. It is a triple purpose breed – for draught, milk and meat. Its strength and dominating presence make this animal a traditional favourite for the Jallikattu of Tamil Nadu, the rural festivals of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and in the bullfights of Mexico and East Africa.
Regrettably, however, the Ongole declined in our country. While Brazil imported just 100 live Ongole animals from India between 1960-62 and multiplied them into millions, the Ongole population in India came down from millions to just five lakh animals. The Indian breeds Ongole, Gir, Tarparkar, and Deoni, played a vital role in expanding the cattle wealth of Brazil from 56 million in 1965 to over 220 million in 2015, of which over 165 million are Ongole hybrids. The irony is that Brazil named the hybridized Ongole breeds Godavari, Taj Mahal, etc.; today, 65% of the global beef trade revolves around the pure or hybridized breeds derived from the Ongole breed. Brazil dominates the global trade.
India is now trying to import germplasm from Brazil to revive the Ongole breed. So much for our sense of preserving our biodiversity! Why did we fail? Because to begin with, (1) as a nation, we undervalue our natural endowments and overvalue anything western. As a result, 75 years after independence, we still behave like slaves, and (2) we don’t invest in research and technology to further improve what is ours. I could go on, but I will reserve it for another day. One of the key reasons why we drove Ongole to near extinction is because we indiscriminately imported high milk- yielding breeds native to European countries. Their genetics have unequivocally destroyed the native pure-bred cattle population across the country.
Okay, so far, so bad! Then how does Meghalaya get into this story? It was the brainwave of G.H.P. Raju, the Principal Secretary, AH & amp; Vety., who, being an Andhra man, had a clue about the Ongole breed. He conceptualized a Breed Improvement Programme on a pilot basis and managed to procure 3200 doses of FSS (Frozen Semen Straws) of Ongole Breed from the Government Farm at Lam, near Guntur (AP.) Dr Amit Lamare at the Indo-Danish Cattle farm at Upper Shillong is his able ally in this project. The pilot project to cross the high milk-yielding Holstein Friesen (HF) cattle with Ongole breed through artificial insemination (AI) commenced in December 2020 to produce the first-generation progeny (technically, F1).
FSS technology is widely used in Cattle development programmes all over the world. Deep freezing of semen increases the life span of spermatozoa as they go into suspended animation. Transportation to any remote place in liquid nitrogen in cryo- tanks without damaging the quality is now possible. The F1 progeny will carry the genetic traits (50%) of Holstein Friesian – so they continue to be high milk yielders, while the 50% Ongole lends higher muscle mass and hence, more meat. By April 2022, two thousand doses of Ongole FSS have been sent to the 57 Stockman Centres across the state, and 780 doses of Ongole FSS have been administered to the non-descript native cattle. More than 100 calves have already been born, and more are due for delivery over the next three to four months.
Parallelly, 200 doses of Ongole FSS have been earmarked for the IDP (Indo-Danish Project), Upper Shillong, to undertake the research and determine the performance of the F1 progeny on 13 parameters including the rapidity of the weight gain, feed conversion ratio, etc. Already 76 calves are born at the IDP, and their energy has to be seen to be believed. The Chief Minister will hand a dozen of these male heifers over to the model villages on 25th May 2022. They will now join the cowherds and get ready for natural servicing in due course of time. The project seeks to cover one lakh non-descript (ND) cows annually, so at least a thousand F1 males must be inducted annually over the next decade. The F1 Males will cross with the local ND cows, and the game will start changing in terms of higher milk and meat production once the next generation (F2) animals arrive in the field because the F2 animals perform better than the local animals in milk and meat. They are also easy to inseminate artificially because they are less aggressive than the local ND cows. Moreover, the heat age will come down substantially because the ND cows take up to four years to come to heat, while the F2 hybrids may take half that time. So, the farmer will benefit from a better economic return on the capital employed because of a faster turnaround.
Whatever has happened so far is just baby steps. We have a long way to go, but the direction is right. Meghalaya has an estimated four lakh non-descript (ND) cows that are low milk and meat yielders. Ours being a milk and meat deficit state, we have much work to do before achieving a semblance of self-sufficiency. It may surprise many that almost all of our annual milk production of ten crore litres comes from just 50,000 exotic cows (mostly HF and Jersey). After the launching of Milk Mission, the number of the Dairy Cooperative Societies has increased from a mere two to 118. Likewise, we import about 50000 bovines annually to meet the state’s meat needs. So, it is a matter of food security for a land-locked state with difficult logistics.
So, what should we do? There are six action points: (1) Because the solution lies in improving the breed quality of the non-descript cows of the state undertaking a mission mode approach to artificially inseminate them with the HF and Jersey for milk, and with Ongole for meat is the way forward. My compliments to the Department for thinking right. (2) Establish a Non-descript Breed Improvement Farm (NDBIF) at any suitable location in our state with a production capacity of at least a thousand F1 progeny a year. Ongole parent stock will moderately improve the milk yield but substantially improve the meat yield. (3) Incentivize the farmers who want their cows to switch from natural servicing to Artificial Insemination (4) Increase the number of private A.I. Workers substantially from the present number of about 180. (5) Reserve the HF and Jersey for the Dairy Cooperative Societies (DSC) and earmark the Ongole FSS to enhance the meat production, and (6) Encourage the private entrepreneurs to get into breed improvement business by evolving a scheme. And my sincere compliments to the Department of Animal Husbandry and Veterinary for doing something remarkable.